In my opinion (and not only mine) every story is driven by characters. If characters are flat or sketchy, the story will suffer. Best characters are those you want to be friends, lovers or maybe worst enemies with, those who leave you restless and sneak into your dreams.
I’m not always a work-obsessed nerd, I do go out occasionally to see what’s happening around. So recently I went to see a musical called Les Miserables in London’s West End. The musical is based on a Victor Hugo novel of the same title. It’s been running for 32 years and is still a tremendous success. This year it received the prestigious Lawrence Olivier award as the best musical of 2012.
I loved every bit of it. The music was lofty, the sound in Queen’s Theatre – amazing, the voices impressive and the entire production left me to crave for more, and that was after nearly a three-hour long show.
But the most important reason why I liked it were the characters of the story. Hugo presented a panorama of human souls in his novel – ranging from hilarious villains the Thénardiers couple to the major character of Jean Valjean who is virtuous as a saint. The child characters of Cosette and Gavrosh are impossible not to adore, while the troubled and duty-driven Javert left me with contradictory feelings, – I couldn’t see him as a villain or a protagonist or a side-kick. Yet I felt sorry for him. And how can one fail to sympathize to Thénardiers’ daughtér Éponine: though she was brought up by immoral parents and fell in love with a person who can’t reciprocate – she stays brave and goodhearted.
I mean it’s my fiftieth blog post (jubilee, yay!) and I mean to go a level deeper than this generic sentiment. Take on Éponine again. Why doesn’t she simply kill the bloke she’s crazy about when she finds out he’s all over another woman? I would (just kidding). Why does one love possessively, while the other – in the all-giving way? Why does Éponine, an offspring of vile and sinister parents, behave unlike them? Maybe I’ll get my answers from Samantha Barks (yes, Les Mis is about to hit the cinemas later this year). But you get my point, don’t you? It’s so exciting to observe inner struggle and emotional battles of amazing characters.
It could all be different if written nowadays. Imagine Jean Valjean who is an honest werewolf, wrongly accused of marauding the Champs Elysees’ meat market. Having escaped from an Azkaban-like facility he falls in love with Fantine, who’s a witch but a good person. Together they try to escape from the chief police officer and the evil vampire Javert, it all ends up in the the battle involving flying fireballs and the Eifel Tower collapsing on Fantine and other bystanders, hitting the ground with a thud, which causes Gondwanaland to split into separate continents (that’s a bit of paleo-geology for you, you lucky pop). Anyway, grieving Jean Valjean escapes to the sewage. If it reminds you of Bane, you should know that it wasn’t Hugo who plagiarized Batman. I have forgotten to mention that escaped to the Heaven Fantine has a daughter called Cosette, a little girl, able manipulate objects in the air by levitation; she is adopted by her uncle and aunt Thenardiers, a pair of shape-shifters, who force the girl to aid them in stealing artifacts from the Louvre … and so on. Does it sound like a box office flop?
The modern story-telling often relies on action gimmicks and impressive visuals sacrificing the character development. No wonder, many current blockbusters feel sterile and can’t stir emotions in spectators. Authentic characters, quirky and unique yet the ones that people can relate to, is what gives a story its gravity. And that’s why Les Miserables is a good example of how an old classics can keep its universal appeal to audiences.